Compass: Assembly should do right by voters, put labor law on ballot in April 2014

By JASON ALWARD and ANDY HOLLEMANOctober 7, 2013 

It is an important day for our community. Today, the Anchorage Assembly decides which election the repeal of Anchorage Ordinance 37 will be assigned to.

Here is a refresher on this controversial law. In late March, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall and Mayor Dan Sullivan produced a radical rewrite of the city's labor laws. It was developed in secret with a private attorney and without consultation of any municipal department heads. They introduced the ordinance with the intention of passing it in two weeks. Thousands of residents spoke out against the ordinance and hundreds testified. Emphasizing a need to pass the ordinance quickly, the Assembly cut off public testimony while people were lined up to speak out against it. This had never happened before.

The vote was made and AO-37 passed. We took our concerns to the community and submitted a petition request to repeal AO-37 by referendum. We were denied. We were forced to take the city to court, prevailed on every point of law and were given the ability to circulate petitions. With 26 days to collect 7,124 signatures, we collected 22,136 signatures in 25. Next, the city decided to appeal the ruling.

This brings us to today; per the Anchorage Municipal Charter, Code and Regulations, the Assembly must put this issue on a ballot.

The Assembly has produced three options for scheduling the AO-37 vote on a ballot. The first would understandably occur at the next municipal election in April 2014. Option two would include this municipal issue at a state election in Nov. 2014. Never has a municipal issue been incorporated into a state election before; the city clerk has already outlined in a 10-point briefing documenting all of the problems this presents, including coordinating an altogether different set of staff, voter registration polls, ballots, absentee and early voting operations, etc. in conjunction with the state election operation. How many folks would simply refuse to go through the voting process twice? Not to mention, how could such an unorthodox system be counted on for complete accuracy without irregularities or errors?

The last option would default to the municipal election in April 2015. For an ordinance created under a pretense of urgency, why would the Assembly consider putting it to vote more than a year from now? The city's reason on record is to make sure there will be maximum voter turnout. What appears to be closer to the truth, however, is that this is a game of electoral "hot potato." The city doesn't want this issue on the April 2014 ballot for fear of an angry electorate. The violation of Municipal Code and the poor treatment of the citizens have angered voters and now the city wants to push this off to a future state ballot to mitigate the damage.

Another city excuse to delay this vote is to let the Supreme Court decide the outcome of its appeal. In these types of electoral issues, our Supreme Court has an extremely good record of granting what is known as expedited consideration, or a speedier ruling. Sadly, when the city appealed they asked to delay the election before even seeking expedited consideration. We were forced to ask for this, and once we did, the city was pressured to join us. The issue of the constitutionality of our petition will be decided long before April.

As the petitioners to repeal AO-37, we are stunned at the level of resistance that our city and our Assembly have put up as we seek to exercise a right guaranteed to citizens by municipal code. Simply put, this "process" is a scandal.

The Assembly needs to stop this and put the repeal of AO-37 on the April 2014 ballot. It is the timeliest election and makes sense. The 22,136 people who asked the Assembly to give them a vote on this issue expect they do that in the most logical, cost-effective and least confusing manner. We know what the right answer is, and we, along with thousands of concerned citizens, hope they vote that way today.

Jason Alward is president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 . Andy Holleman is president of the Anchorage Education Association.

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